Edward Bede Clancy, while a faithful servant of the Catholic Church, was also a steely pragmatist, who achieved much during his time as archbishop of Sydney.
That was the response given by the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal Edward Bede Clancy AC to a request for advice from an up-and-coming young priest heading to Rome.
It is not known if the priest, now an archbishop, took the cardinal at his word but today, as one of Australia’s leading prelates, it didn’t hurt his advancement either.
Edward “Ted” Clancy was unarguably a true and faithful son of the church. But the anecdote says a lot, too, about his lack of naivety and his steely pragmatism.
He was also respected, reserved, pastoral, trusted and trustworthy, disciplined, hard-working, focused and, in private, a dry-witted and charming man, regarded by many as one of the great archbishops of Sydney.
It was Clancy’s support, especially in Rome, that resulted in the eventual canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop.
Edward Bede Clancy, who died early on Sunday at the age of 90, served as archbishop between 1983 and 2001, years that saw the church in Sydney undergo great change.
As one priest said of Clancy, he was a “lifer” from the “old school”, who at the age of just 16 entered the seminary.
Clancy was born on December 13, 1923, at Lithgow, to school teacher John Bede Clancy and Ellen Lucy Edwards. He was educated at Holy Camp Public School (Grenfell), St Monica’s Primary School and Good Samaritan School, Richmond, Marist Brothers’ College, Parramatta, then at seminaries St Columba’s College, Springwood, and St Patrick’s College, Manly.
He was ordained in St Mary’s Cathedral on July 23, 1949 by Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy, and was a curate in Belmore before being sent to the Collegio San Pietro in Rome to continue his studies in 1952.
He graduated with a Licentiate in Theology (STL) from the Angelicum University and a Licentiate of Sacred Scripture (LSS) from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
In 1955 he returned to Australia and served as assistant priest of Elizabeth Bay, and later Liverpool, before being appointed Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Springwood seminary in 1959. There he also served as Dean of Discipline, a role in which he excelled, according to some who remember a hard taskmaster.
Clancy, whose mother died young, was brought up by his headmaster father, who imbued young Ted with the disciplined spirit of the times, said one friend.
In 1961 he returned to Rome for further study, gaining his Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1965. As one priest remarked, for Clancy “it was all part of going through the bishop mill”.
He was appointed to St Patrick’s College, Manly on his return as professor of Sacred Scripture.
On October 25, 1973 Pope Paul VI named him Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney. He was ordained bishop on January 19, 1974 St Mary’s Cathedral, by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Sir James Freeman.
Given responsibility for western Sydney, Clancy became affectionately known as the “Bishop of Blacktown”.
It was here, too, that Clancy showed his deep concerns for the welfare of people. One priest noted that while he was reserved with clergy, he warmed to people in his pastoral care. A long-time friend said, “He’s best at relating to ordinary people where they’re at.”
On November 24, 1978 he was made Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn and served there until February 12, 1983, when John Paul II transferred him to Sydney as the archdiocese’s seventh leader.
In 1984 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (OAM). Eight years later he was also made Officer of the Order of Australia (AC).
Elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals, Archbishop Clancy received his “red hat” from Pope John Paul II in 1988.
In 1986, and to the surprise of many, he divided the archdiocese into three – Sydney, Parramatta in the west and Broken Bay to the north. His decision, while unpopular in some circles, was based on pastoral concerns – he wanted parishioners to have more access to their bishop.
It was, a colleague said, an example of Clancy taking the lead from Vatican II in the council’s emphasis on devolving rather than centralising ecclesiastical power.
In 1996 he moved the training of priests from the old St Patrick’s at Manly to the new Seminary of the Good Shepherd at Homebush, and hived off the academic arm of the seminary to the Catholic Institute of Sydney at Strathfield.
As a personal initiative, Clancy also saw to the completion of St Mary’s Cathedral, including the addition of the two spires in architect William Wardell’s original 1860s plans for the basilica.
A former dean of the cathedral says without Clancy’s decision in 1994 to launch a conservation program, the people of Sydney would have been deprived of the fine edifice they enjoy today.
At a time of growth, especially in the southwest and west, Clancy oversaw the construction of 16 new schools and numerous churches.
He also instigated the amalgamation of various Catholic teacher’s colleges into what became the Australian Catholic University, now spread across seven campuses nationally. Clancy was its founding chancellor.
From 1986 to 2000 he was president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and a member of various Vatican bodies.
Clancy’s tenure was marred by controversy over a Vatican intervention in a project he had authorised – the setting up of a heroin injecting room in Kings Cross run by the Sisters of Charity from St Vincents Hospital in 1999.
The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordered the Sisters to drop the scheme after strident protests from a number of conservative Catholics.
While the cardinal took Rome’s decision “on the chin”, as an obedient son of the Church, one priest close to him said he took the rebuke personally but that did not stop him publicly siding with Rome.
But Clancy was on the defensive after a 1999 bishops’ Oceania Synod in Rome, where in a Statement of Conclusions the bishops were reprimanded over a perceived crisis of faith and religious practice in Australia.
Speaking to ABC radio on his retirement in 2001, Clancy expressed frustration at the reception the bishops got from Rome.
“I came away feeling that our brethren in Rome didn’t fully understand the situation in real life as we have it here,” he said.
” … there’s a certain Australian egalitarianism that other people often misread and misunderstand, and also an openness, a sense of inner freedom that one often doesn’t very often find in other peoples.”
On March 26, 2001, having exceeded the age limit of 75, Clancy’s resignation was accepted by Pope John Paul II. He was replaced by the former Archbishop of Melbourne (later Cardinal) George Pell.
Clancy’s legacy will only be truly appreciated in years to come, says Monsignor Tony Doherty, who agrees his friend should be considered one of the “great” archbishops of Sydney.
“While lacking the profile of Moran or the historical context of Polding, Clancy was one of the most courageous men who had bitten into some of the biggest issues in the history of the Sydney church – a fellow who lifted himself to take on some of the historic decisions of his time.”